March 20, 2013
The Minnesota men’s gymnastics team concludes the regular season this Saturday when it hosts No. 1 Penn State. The Gophers, who are ranked No. 7, face the Nittany Lions at 5 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion.
Saturday is only the fourth home meet of the year for the Gophers, who have competed at their on-campus facility only twice since Feb. 3. Minnesota will host the Big Ten Championships on April 5-6, but head coach Mike Burns is excited to be at home against Penn State instead of traveling to Happy Valley.
“That is a big bonus for us,” said Burns, as his team has been on the road for four of its last five meets. “We have done a lot of traveling this year and it takes its toll. The guys get to sleep in their own beds, compete on their own equipment and hopefully have a great crowd.”
Minnesota has been solid at home as well, averaging a team score of 430.183 in the Sports Pavilion. However, Burns knows that his team will have to put forth maximum effort and turn in its best meet of the year against Penn State.
“Really it is about consistency and making sure these guys are in their comfort zone with the routines they are doing,” said Burns. “You want them going into a meet saying, ‘I have done this routine a thousand times and these skills ten thousand times. There is nothing in here that is going to knock me off my game.’”
As a team Penn State is ranked No. 1 in the nation in pommel horse, still rings, parallel bars and high bar. The Nittany Lions are ranked second in vault and fifth in floor exercise.
“The No. 1 team in the nation is coming in to do battle,” said Burns. “I am excited to see what they look like. I have heard a lot of good things and seen a lot of big scores. We will see what they are like outside of the comfort of the East Coast. I don’t know what the temperature is in Happy Valley, but it is probably not as cold as it is here.
“They are a formidable opponent. You look at the statistics and you go, ‘Wow, this is like David and Goliath.’ Like David, we are hoping we can throw rocks their way and get a direct hit and have a chance to win. It is not going to be easy. Penn State is coming in with a lot of confidence and we are going to get a chance to see how good they are.”
Despite the lofty rankings surrounding the Penn State program, Burns said there is one event that he will pay extra attention to on Saturday. He said is looking forward to the high bar competition, as the top three gymnasts in the nation will be competing. Penn State’s Wasef Burbar is No. 1, while Matt Felleman is No. 2. Minnesota counters with third-ranked Steve Jaciuk. Gopher freshman Danny DiBenedetto is ranked No. 14 and advanced to the second day of competition at the Winter Cup with a strong high bar performance earlier this year.
Saturday’s meet is also special to Burns, as he is a 1981 graduate and former gymnast at Penn State.
“It has been a long time, but I think anybody who spent four years and competed for a program has a little piece of their heart still attached to it,” said Burns. “And I am the same way, but at the same time they are also the team that is coming in here that we want to beat. We are going to do our job the best we can and hopefully get the result we are looking for.”
The Gophers will also celebrate Senior Night against Penn State when they honor their lone senior Adam LaFleur.
“This is his fifth year,” said Burns. “It took him a little bit of time to crack the lineup, but he has been a mainstay in the lineup since he started as a redshirt freshman. As a coach it is always tough to see your seniors graduate, but it is exciting because they are beginning the next part of their life.
“Adam has been pretty solid for us and he was a good leader. When he was in high school he played a lot of sports and is very multi-dimensional. He is very athletic and that serves him well in our sport. Adam has a lot of talent and a lot physical attributes.”
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